The Washington state Legislature passed its 2015-17 operating budget Monday, lowering tuition statewide by 5 percent for the 2015-16 academic year. The budget passed just 24 hours before a scheduled partial government shutdown.
Of the many budget points the House Democrats and Senate Republicans disagreed on, tuition was a big one: The Senate wanted a 25 percent reduction, and the House wanted to freeze tuition. The final budget resulted in a compromise between the two parties.
For the UW, a 5 percent reduction will save students about $540 next year. The year after that, state universities are set to reduce tuition by a further 10 percent, a drop of roughly $1,600 for UW students. These reductions only apply to undergraduate, in-state residents.
“I feel like we’re still processing the data we got … to see how the university will fare overall,” said Genesee Adkins, UW director of state relations. “But I think, in general, we’re going to be pleased.”
Regional universities like Western Washington University are required to have an even steeper tuition reduction of 20 percent for the 2016-17 year. The budget also calls for a total spending of approximately $351 million in state funds to higher education.
Austin Wright-Pettibone, the director of ASUW’s Office of Government Relations, said he was pleased to finally see investment in higher education by the Washington state Legislature.
“For everybody who can get frustrated by student government or feels like students don’t have a voice, I feel like this really shows that students have an impact in the political decisions that are made,” Wright-Pettibone said.
Interim President Ana Mari Cauce expressed concerns in May over the Senate budget, saying it wouldn’t adequately fund the UW Medical School in Spokane. On Tuesday, she thanked lawmakers for their efforts to educate health professionals in Washington state.
“The budget agreement enables us not only to continue medical education in Spokane and Eastern Washington through [the medical education program serving Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho], but to expand our ability to educate physicians for all of Washington state,” Cauce said.
Adkins said she was also very pleased with how the budget turned out.
“We did fine on the medical school,” she said. “We got 9 million for the biennium — enough to maintain the program and grow it by 20 students.”
Adkins’ only complaint was the time line of budget decisions. There are many UW employees who will be getting their compensation adjustments delayed until September, when it’s usually adjusted according to the budget by July 1, Adkins said.
Junior Jessie Gamble is the first of her family to get a college degree, and is currently working three jobs and taking out a loan for the next school year.
“It was a big risk to come to college, riding on loans alone,” Gamble said. “The fact that our legislators down in Olympia just passed this budget with a tuition cut, to me, is a direct way to say they care about us and our future. I’m crying right now because I’m so happy.”
Wright-Pettibone said it wouldn’t have been possible without students standing up and speaking out to legislatures and politicians.
“I think for today, this is something that we can celebrate,” Wright-Pettibone said. “There will be more issues that will come up for sure, there are things that are left undone. We won big in this legislative session. We should applaud ourselves for the work that has been done, and rededicate for the work that needs to be done next year.”